We long for special and profound ‘moments’ in our lives, but for some reason don’t really ever try and piece the moments together. Or, more importantly, we take in that moment, but don’t let it change and affect the moments that follow.
Today we wanna talk about Character. Who we are, who we’re becoming, and why a moment with Jesus can start us on an amazing journey of spiritual formation.
I guess you can say this whole series is about character: yours, mine, ours.
There’s a difference between Personality & Character. Isn’t there?
Personality is made up by the traits we have imbedded in us. Introvert, Extrovert, quiet, loud, sarcastic, funny, natural ability, etc.
– Bill is comfortable in a loud and full room
– Jill is quiet, but she has lots to say in the right moment
– Joe is strong, kind of born with strength, doesn’t have to do much for it
– Kate is as quick as a whip. She just always gets things fast.
Character is different, isn’t it? It’s who we’ve become, through the experiences we’ve had, either by choice or by chance. It’s how we’ve taken what’s been given to us and used it to make us better. It’s the values that we’ve allowed to be instilled in us – the ones that shine through in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
– Bill is truthful
– I can trust Jill
– Joe is reliable
– I’m comfortable leaving my kids with Kate
Personality is sometimes seen as the exterior, where Character is what’s inside; what’s foundational about us. That said, Character can be formed. Right? Character is something we can work at, something we can develop.
I can’t change my hair colour (you know what I mean), or my body type. I can’t make myself funnier than I am. There are some physical and personal traits that simply will always be. But my character…how I live out my personality…that can change.
I came across some writing that can help us identify when our character is slipping…
- THERE’S A GROWING GAP BETWEEN WHAT YOU SAY PUBLICLY AND HOW YOU LIVE PRIVATELY
- YOUR EMOTIONS ARE INAPPROPRIATE TO THE SITUATION
- YOU HAVE LESS AND LESS GRACE TO GIVE
- Everything HAS BECOME ABOUT YOU
- YOU KEEP JUSTIFYING YOUR BAD ACTIONS AND DECISIONS
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If the story of Jesus is about anything, it’s about how someone can change. The reason the gospel is good news is because those who experience it are better for it.
There’s a word or short phrase that depicts that better than any other we see.
You didn’t see that one coming did you? Funny that we don’t use that word too often. I wonder why?
Perhaps you’ve been in a conversation with someone who has (legitimate) hangups with the church or with Christians. I have. Many of them of course. And I enjoy every conversation. I remember one person who was trying to help me see that I’m not like the people he or she is describing, saying, but “you’re not one of those born again types.” I had to say that I am…born again, but not really like ‘them’…but…I understand why they say and feel that. The person’s life they’re referencing doesn’t match up with the description they’ve given it, or the definition they think born again should have. This, we might say, is a breakdown in character.
Valid critical thoughts aside, we’ve witnessed dramatic, new life kind of change in others. We might even say that they’ve been re-born.
Who do you know that you could whole heartedly give this description too without hesitation?
– someone you’ve witnessed change…
– someone who lives this kind of life…
We can’t get away from Jesus’ words in John’s gospel. This is only one of two places we read the phrase born again, but it was so influential that the idea and understanding has stuck for 2000 years.
There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” 5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
That phrase, born again, a beautiful, yet torn apart phrase, was conceived in this story, in this gospel.
– Nicodemus goes to Jesus at Night (hmmmm)
– He’s intrigued with what? Jesus’ words & Jesus’ miracles. The evidence that God is with him.
– You wanna see God’s Kingdom? Be born again, says Jesus!
– The Spirit gives birth to spiritual life
The reason some people get tripped up with this phrase is because we’ve ruined for them? You see, our birth is only as significant as the life we live following our birth.
A birth certificate may prove that you were born, but it doesn’t prove that you’re alive. All we need for that is to look at you. Try this in a conversation. When someone says, ‘How are you?’, respond with ‘I’m Alive’. See what happens. It’ll be fun 🙂
Now, it’s not just if you’re alive that’s important, but how you are living that actually matters.
The day you were born is important only because it started you on the life you’re now living today.
So…as much as it matters that spiritual birth happened…what matters more is that spiritual life is occurring.
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It’s in 1 Peter that we see how this affects our character; who we are, who we’re becoming.
1 Peter 1…
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
Peter is talking about the Christian Way of Life. That way of life is LOVE. Loving one another deeply from the heart.
How does one love deeply from the heart, according to Peter? How is someone’s character formed in such a way to love so deeply?
– That kind of person has been purified by obeying the truth
– Purity. Obedience. Truth.
– An inner purity that comes from the power of the gospel
– The verbs in this sentence indicate an activity that wasn’t there before. (aka character change or formation)
– That kind of person has been born again
– This birth is from imperishable seed
– This seed, the word of God – is Jesus
– From this point on, your character will be forming into the character of Jesus.
Born Again. Re-Birth. Born from Above. This is what changes us, this is what starts us on the path towards becoming like Jesus.
And just like physical birth, a spiritual re-birth is just the beginning. Everyday is a day to grow, and change, and become.
Think about it this way. We are ING people.
Do you wanna be identified for what ‘happened’ to you, once, a while ago, or…what is continually happening in and through you?
Starting is wonderful and exciting. Continuing is filled with purpose and depth.
Being born again is one thing…continually being formed is quite another. Don’t stop your journey at the start line, keep moving forward towards the finish line.
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What are you doing to form your character? Solitude? Prayer? Scripture reading? Gathering with community? Rest? Do you allow the difficult things in your life to change you for good or for bad?
Have you asked that initial question from Jesus? Can I be born-again, re-born, made new?
Have you been guilty of living off the fumes of your initial spiritual re-birth experience? Why do you think that even though one’s initial experience with Jesus is real and beautiful, that it’s easy to get complacent and allow your spiritual/character formation to stall?
Read the 1 Peter text again. What do you take from it? How do those words challenge you?